Monday, July 4, 2011

Small, Medium, and Large Tablets

In 2007 I called the first generation iPhone a mini tablet. Since then I have had every iPhone generation (iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4), and switched my personal phone a year ago to a Samsung Captivate (My office phone is the iPhone 4 now, replacing the much disliked-by-me Blackberry line).

All of them are small Tablet Computers. Not the Blackberries, the other ones. Apparently the Blackberries are "smartphones".  Maybe when QNX comes out they will be tablet computers, or at least some of them will be, like whatever the QNX version of the Storm is. I like RIM, and I hope that they can get it together. At the time of this writing they are still not getting it and getting beaten to death by Android and Apple. But I digress.

I had an iPad 1, but that has moved to a Motorola Xoom. Now, another tablet has entered the scene: A Nook Color.

The means I while I am still a slacker in this department relative to some, I now have 4 tablet computers: The iPhone4, the Captivate, the Nook, and the Xoom. All rest on my nightstand when they need to eat:

Hungry Computers
I should say that I was a bit leary of the idea of a 7 inch tablet. It seemed too fine a split between the 4 inch Captivate and the 10.1 inch Xoom. My wife got one, and while she mostly uses hers as B&N intended, I.E. a reader, I was interested in the way the the little Nook pushed her iPad out of the way for most things. It was more portable. It was lighter to hold for long periods of time. It had a very nice, very readable screen, with good 169 DPI across its 7 inch, 1024x600 screen. Not as good as the iPhones 326, or the Samsungs 233 DPI... but better than the iPads 132 and slight better than the Xooms 160. DPI (or PPI if you prefer) are not all there is to a screen of course, as I have noted here that I prefer the saturated colors / viewing experience of the Captivates AMOLED technology screen over the higher DPI, less saturated, yellower iPhone. It is an interesting comparison point, and I am nearly certain that the iPad3 will answer the current iPad critic's with a higher DPI display. It pretty much has to. I am guessing they'll double it, like they did the iPhone, for about 264 DPI. But I digress....

(side note: Nifty DPI page on Wikipedia)

  • Small: Captivate: CyanogenMod Nightly build, Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread). As of this writing its build 48, but that changes every night of course...
  • Medium: Nook Color (AKA Encore): CyanogenMod 7.1 RC1, Android 2.3.4. Nightlies for the Nook are actually higher than the Captivate, at Build 122 at the time of this writing, however as easy as the Nook is to install CM7 on, it takes almost that same process to update it everynight, so I settled in on just installing the release candidates for now. The problem is that the way the internal partitions are set up, there is not enough room in /mnt/sdcard to hold even one nightly build. But this works...
  • Large: Motorola Xoom, Android 3.1 stock.

Medium Tablet

Like my wife, I find I use the 7 inch NookDroid quite a bit. I prefer it for reading books over the Captivate or the Xoom for example, although the Nook app on Android is not as good as it was in the native B&N 1.2 OS release. That is a bit odd, since that was just 2.2/Froyo under the covers, so clearly B&N does not release the latest/best/most optimized version of the Nook reader to the Android Market. This compensated for by the fact that:
  • I can run any reader I want now: I like to shop all the eBook shops to get the best deals. I do buy from B&N when they have the best price.
  • The web browser options are much better (I mostly use Dolphin HD on it)
  • Most all the 'droid apps work on it, and most work better than they do on the Xoom for some reason: You would not think there was that big a difference for an app between managing the screen real estate of 1024x600 and 1280x800 but there is.
  • Gingerbread is rocking fast on this unit: Hardly any lag anywhere. The Nook 1.2 software was OK, but it stopped to go think about things all the time, for no apparent reason. My wife, who still runs the stock version most of the time is often frustrated by its lagginess.
  • I have the overclock kernel on it (The Nooks TI OMAP processor is amazingly flexible about speed) , and can watch video, although I prefer that on the Xoom (screen size) or the Captivate (color saturation). It's nice to have the option if it is all I have with me at the moment.
The things holding back the NookDroid are:
  • It really needs 3.1's tablet optimizations. I guess that really means it will get Ice Cream Sandwich when it comes out, since that will have source for the CyanogenMod folks to use.
  • I miss the GPS: The Xoom has an awesome GPS chipset, and the Captivates GPS works like a champ now with CM7. It's amazing how many things, like maps and navigation and whatnot, are used without thinking of their reliance of GPS.
  • It would be cool if the FM radio worked. As shipped from B&N, the radio chipset only enables Wifi, but it has Bluetooth and FM radio on it too, and the CM7 crew has the bluetooth going.
Still: It has convinced me that there is value in the 7 inch form factor, and at half the price of anything else out there, it is an amazing little unit.

Small Tablet

I have not talked here very much about the Captivate since I got it. I replaced the tiny 1500 MAh battery with a 3200 MAh unit (almost as big as the Nooks 4000 MAh battery), which has been a lifesaver, if looking slightly like a humpback whale. No heavier than the iPhone in its Mophie skin though.

I have been through quite a number of ROM's on the SC. The Captivate must be one of the more ROM'ed phones around. That is probably due, at least in part, to the hardware being great, and the OS, as shipped by Samsung... not so much. In addition to the stock 2.1 and later 2.2 releases, I have run all sorts of versions of Andromeda, Cognition, and Serendipity. Now CM7. Originally it was to get the AT&T apps off the phone, and get it to 2.2 fast than AT&T/Samsung were doing. Later it was to just replace the much slower version of the OS that ships stock. 

After messing around for the better part of the year in custom ROM space, last month I went from a botched CM7 nightly back to stock AT&T Froyo (2.2). I wanted to know how much better 2.2 was over 2.1. When the battery started lasting 1/4 the time it was before, and the phone lagged and generally acted like there was sand in its bearings, I realized that I had no idea just how much better the custom ROM world, with its occasional hiccups, was to the stock world. It's like Samsung has no idea what to do with their own hardware. I read on and on in the forums, as I suffered through the long week on stock 2.2, about how bad the device drivers were, and why the aftermarket had created the "Lagfix" and so forth.

The minute I got back from that trip, CM7 went back onto the phone and in the 20 or so builds since has not had any major issues. Right now, on build 48, I have to remember to turn back on the phone ringtone because it is defaulting to vibrate for some reason. Nothing major though.

That being said, I am watching for what the next phone will be. Front runner right now is the Galaxy II S once it hits AT&T... and I see a CM7 build for it.

Large Tablet

The main thing to say about the Xoom at this point is that I wish Google / Motorola would get the lead out, and get the update that supports the SD card into place. As a "Google Experience" unit (and the reason I went with it instead of the A500 or a Samsung 10.1) it is weird to not be having the full experience. The forums go back and forth about why there is no SD card support, and in truth the reason no longer matters. It is just silly now. The ROM market has hacked a version that does have SD card support. There is SD card support outside the US in the stock OS. Why does not matter. It just needs to be fixed.

Ice Cream Sandwich can not come soon enough, except to get the merge between the 2.x and 3.x lines right. Seeing the seams around the edges of 2.3.4 on the Nook, it is clear that running a tablet benefits fro having an OS that "gets" the screen size. 3.1 is nice, but in small and medium spaces, I have seen the advantages of letting the community have the code and fixing the problems. The Captivate and the Nook are far better for the AOSP (Android Open Source) version for the code. The Xoom needs that too, because it is clear that Google / Motorola are not able to deliver feature / function in a timely manner.

None of this is to say I am ready to run back to the iPad. I'd be interested in seeing one with a high resolution screen, and the Android feature functions of iOS5 like notifications, but as I have said here before I am tired of the jailbreak cat and mouse in that space. I don't care about jailbreak for my iPhone 4 because it is really my employers and so it is bone stock. I use it for work things only, not most of my daily life. At this point every app I was using on the iPhone is either on the 'droid, or has an alternative that is as good or better.

Cables and Power

One thing that is interesting to note is the different ways that the phone/tablets go about solving their battery charging needs. The Captivate comes with its own charger that seems to talk to the Captivate differently. The phone does not report being on a USB cord when plugged into it It also seems to charge more quickly with it, probably because the Samsung Charger is 700 MA (Milli Amp) rather than a standard USB ports 500 MA. Still, to charge the 3200 MAh battery takes a while. The nice thing is that the cables can be standard, OTC, MicroUSB. Nothing special required cable wise. It will charge more quickly if I hook it to the Nook charger, or the 2000 MA iPad charger (I still have the charger), but I usually avoid fast charging it for fear of not knowing how well the internal parts can deal with the higher wattages.

The Nook has a standard looking MicroUSB cable, but closer inspection reveals it is longer: The shank goes more deeply into the socket. it turns out the cable is not standard (at least not currently standard), and has extra wires at a second depth. The charger is 1900 MA (1.9 amps) and that charges the Nook even while in use. If you hook a standard cable to it, it will charge slowly while turned off, or extend battery life while on, but the Nook uses more than 500 MA cables provide while on, so the battery does drain if it is, for example, hooked to your laptop USB port. I have no qualms about putting the Nook on the iPad USB charger, as there is not that much difference between them in terms of milliamps.

The Xoom has a MicroUSB port on it, so it can use the same cord as well... but only for data. The power comes in via a tiny barrel connector (or a couple pins on the docking station), The Xoom charges faster than either the Samsung or the B&N unit though. The special power cord means that they did not have to play USB voltage games, so the 6500 MAh battery of the Xoom, despite being the largest in the group, is the fastest to fill up. The advantage of 12 volts at 1.5 amps (19 volts at 1.58 amps for the docking station with speakers). That also makes the car charger for the Xoom pretty small, since nothing much has to be done with the voltage coming out of the cars accessories port.

I like that the Xoom charges so fast, but I would like a USB port option. As USB evolves to charge more and more things, I am wondering if the Nook USB design might go wider. I can see nothing in the standards about such a thing though. I am guessing that once the market is as full of MicroUSB devices as there once where MiniUSB devices, and the people that make cords need to make some more cords that we might see another standard emerge. If it does, at least it will solve the needing 2000 or more MA@5v on the USB cord problem...


Monday, June 20, 2011


I keep hearing how Android tablets suck rocks, and how Apple owns the tablet market, and that this platform and that platform are D.O.A. and various other bits of breathless hyperbole.

That Apple is currently dominant in tablet computing is true. That tablet computing is eating up netbook sales is true (despite all the denials).

But what I do not get is all this stuff about how everything other than iPad is doomed. But then, I don't get the iPad2 as a device. More on that in a sec...

I currently have a Motorola Xoom, and I love it. When my first one was stolen out of my car (so I guess a Xoom is worth stealing in broad daylight), I went from Walmart to Walmart to Costco (Verizon ones only in stock: No thanks) to Walmart till I found another. Eight stores in all. The Xoom is about the same weight and thickness as my iPad1 was. It is fast, and has a different aspect ratio, but it more or less feels like the iPad1 in the hand.

I have held an iPad2, and I did not like it as well. It felt.. thin. I know from the teardown reports that the glass in thinner... and glued in. The screen resolution is the same as the iPad1. Yes, it was faster than the 1, and it had a front facing camera and all that, but I would take an iPad1 over an iPad2. Or, in my case, a Xoom.

If they can make them thinner with the same battery life and thinner glass, then how about the same thickness, the same serviceability, and longer battery life instead? 10 hours is not magical. If you can make it thinner and still run 10 hours, then keep it the same, and make it run for 12 or 15 hours instead. My preference anyway.

Motorola has apparently moved about 250,000 Xooms in the first three months, and that has been classified by the media as abject failure. Maybe it is: I have no idea if it is profitable at that volume or not, though I would think that it is.

It is being measured by the insanely profitable iPad I suppose, and that of course is where all the hype comes in. Anyone remember when Apple said it was introducing this phone thing and they would be happy with just 1% of the market?

I lived with my iPad1 for a year, and I handed off to its next owner in perfect working order. It was a nice unit, and did exactly what I wanted it to do for the most part. The Xoom does everything it did, only faster and in 16:9 instead of 4:3.

Drag and drop to load files. No iTunes involvement. I like the Xoom better in every possible way. It even has some of the same gripes. I did not like that the iPad did not use MicroUSB for data and power, and the Xoom uses a proprietary power cord too, though it does have MicroUSB for data. The Xoom charges way faster than the iPad did, so that is a plus for the special power connector. And having had a Xoom stolen, I have a spare now, which is handy.

There are not as many Xoom accessories, but all the ones that I had for the iPad I have for the Xoom, and then some. I always meant to get some sort of music base station for the iPad, and I did get one of the Xoom, and now it is the perfect alarm clock.

I have not rooted it yet, but I will eventually, if for no other reason than to get Titanium Backup running. But unlike the iPad, there is less of a feel of urgency because it feels like it is putting less restrictions on me.

I don't know what the tech media is smoking: They are only sharing with each other. The Xoom, the Acer A500, The Samsung 10.1, et al (and yes, I like the 10.1 inch screen size) are all fine units, and if they are not tearing Apples market share up, they are all pretty good units in their own right. Here is hoping that hype does not become reality, as it seems that what most of these folks would like to see at this point is a failure, so that they can trot out an "I told you so" rather than looking at whether the devices work, and are worthy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Open Again

Google released a new spam filter for the comments, and so I have re-opened the comments. No moderation at all.

I did not know that the moderation feature would not notify me that there were comments awaiting moderation, so there are a number of comments that have just been sitting there. Sorry about that.

iPad 2 Release Day

... and no plans for me to get one. Weird. In my last post, "Tablet Future" I said this:
"The killer feature will be when a tablet has better than 300 DPI in a 10 inch or larger form factor. FWIW: I seriously doubt that iPad 2 will have a Retina display, at least not in 2011. "
If you are just here from your trip to Mars, you may not know that the iPad2 (hereafter just "2") in fact has no better screen resolution than the first generation unit (hereafter the "1").

Various wags have said that the 2 is really the iPad 1.5, and I have to admit that, as I watched the iPad 2 reveal, I was thinking the same thing. Since it would not be original to call it the 1.5 at this point, I won't. Nope. Never hear that from me.

The 2 is a nice unit. Just not compelling enough to make me want to trade in my 1. I already chaff at the restrictions placed on me by Apple: enough so that my next tablet is not likely to be an iPad at all. I admit: I was waiting. The killer feature would have been a high DPI screen, and I would have handed down my 1 and gotten a 2 if it had one. Oddly, it looks like they got the video hardware ready to handle a, with a 9x improvement in performance. I have to guess that they just could not source a "Retina" display in quantity for the price they wanted to pay at wholesale.

The Android tablets really have no better DPI to speak of. Different / better aspect ratios, but not DPI. So why go there? Why not just stay with the iPad?

The Xoom has all the same more or less speeds and feeds (dual core processor, good video card, big RAM), but also has SD card coming in an update (the slot is already there), has a better screen aspect ratio, and is not locked. Really: That one thing alone requires being supported.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 is near, and Samsung does *nice* screens as well. Also has the better aspect ratio like the Xoom. The announced Toshiba unit looks nice, and we'll no doubt see a Dell Streak come along in the 10 inch range.

In every Android case, there will be tons of updates and 3rd party ROMS (Android mis-use of the term ROM is pretty standard: They are not really Read-Only Memory, but software stacks that replace the kernel, apps, and other supporting bits that run the tablet. When I get a chance, I'll post about my ROM adventures on my Samsung Captivate).

In the Apple case there will just be whatever Apple supplies, and there will be the usual tug of 'ware between the jailbreakers and Apple. Kind of like a tug of war, but in software.

When I do not have an iPad anymore I will miss exactly one application that has not moved over to Android yet: BLASTR. Instead, I will have to read the SyFy website with the built in browser. Not sure why SyFy has not created an Android version of that. I wish they would....

Thin is In

The 2 will be thinner than anything in Android space for a while. The aluminum case clearly nicer. The price point competitive. If you don't care about variety of apps / rooting / jailbreaking then there is most likely no reason to consider leaving the iPad fold. The 2 will have more accessories. You'll be able to buy your 2 all sorts of little gifts over the next year. It is going to be the most portable / lightest for a while.

I have Flash on the Captivate now, and I have to say that Apple is not totally wrong about it. Its nice to be able to have the choice of flash or not, but so far the upside has not been all that great. More ads play now for sure. Forgot how annoying those were.

I am sure the 2 will do well without me. And I may even get a 3 or 4 or 7 someday. If Android tablets eat at enough share, maybe Apple will add in the missing features to try and compete a bit. Right up until now, they did not have to. For the last year they were running well ahead of the pack.

Funny: A year ago it was a one company show. It took only a year before the field was full of valid competitors. Not just Android, but the new WebOS unit from HP looks pretty nice too. With HP's announcement that all of its PC's will have WebOS built in, that OS might have a rebirth as well.

Its iPad release day. Time to fire up Pulse on the Captivate and see what is going on outside the Apple world.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tablet Future

A long time ago in a post far far away (OK: back in 2007), I mentioned that I viewed my first generation iPhone as a small tablet computer. Nothing about the 3G, 3GS. 4. or for that matter the Android powered Captivate really has changed my thinking about that. They are all still 3.7 to 4 inch tablet computers.

What has changed is that there are bigger tablet computers available now. The current king-of-the-sales-hill is of course the iPad. The Android powered tablets are going to come on strong this next year, so that by the time of the iPad 2, there will no doubt be 15 Android options. Like the iPhone to Android market of today (Winter Solstice Holidays of 2010 now) in total sales it is almost a sure thing that Android will have more unit sales.

Pick a number: About 8 million iPads to less than 2 million Androids right now (Including Dell Streak, Samsung Tab, B&N's Nook, and various others) will easily be 30 or 40 million tablets next year, with probably just less than half that market going to the iPad.

What that means is that, like the iPhone, all the cool cases and gadgets and tablet accessories are going to collect in the iPad end of the pool. I am working on this post right now on my first gen iPad, using the "ZAGG/mate with Keyboard", a birthday present from my wife.

The ZAGG folks were pretty smart with this design. Not to be too much of a commercial for them, but the built in bluetooth keyboard will sync with more than just an iPad: the design of the tray is such that I can stick my Samsung Captivate in it, and use it instead of the iPad. (Update: Bzzzt: I could if the captivate would, but it appears to not support bluetooth keyboards, at least not in 2.1. Who knows if there will be a 2.2 or not... ) That means that when I get an Android powered tablet someday, even if the ZAGG device won't work as a case, it will work as a stand / keyboard.

Most accessories are far too iPad specific though, and won't enjoy the cross compatibility. Apple ensures this in part by continuing to use the 30 pin connector when a mini or microUSB connector would do.


One of the things that surprised the market was not that the iPad existed at all, but that when it came out it was already so mature as a product. Other than a wifi issue with the initial 3.2.0 release, it was feature rich, stable, and fast. Battery life was amazing. Lore has it that the iPhone was actually an outgrowth of the tablet research, and that Apple decided to introduce it first because they saw a bigger market for such a converged tablet / phone device. I would call them visionary except that I used to watch Star Trek in the 1960's, and ST:TNG in the 1990's and most everything the iPad is was there already.

On the other hand, I had a Pen Windows 1.0 device from Grid in the early 1990's, and have seen most every tablet attempt by MS and their partners since then, and the iPad was the first usable tablet device. It is not just concept. It is implementation, and there Apple really kicked it.

One look or test drive with the current crop of Android powered tablets, and it is clear that Android is not far behind. The Galaxy Tab is too small for me, but it drives nicely. A 10 inch version of that, at a better price point than the current unit would already have me switching. Say a 10 inch screen with better DPI than the current model, 64GB or better (or enough SD slots to let me add that much), for 700 USD or less. Wifi Only, although if it supported the Clear "4G" WiMAX technology that would be nice.

The killer feature will be when a tablet has better than 300 DPI in a 10 inch or larger form factor. FWIW: I seriously doubt that iPad 2 will have a Retina display, at least not in 2011.

I already have a small tablet: two of them in fact. The 7 inch midpoint does not hold any value for me personally. If I just had a feature phone, not a small tablet, then the 7 inch form factor as personal organizer would be very interesting.

Archos will have a 10 inch form factor out soon, but early reviews of it are that are that while it is inexpensive: Half the price of an equivalent iPad, it also feels like it will not last very long. I expect Dell, Acer, Samsung, and others will get into the 10 inch form factor game soon.

The other problem of the current crop of Android powered tablets is that that Android will not officially support the tablet form factor until version 3.0 is out later in 2011. We have seen 2.3 drop here at the end of 2010, but only on the Nexus 2. Many smartphones/mini-tablets, like my Samsung Captivate, are stuck at 2.1 or even older.

The problem is primarily the way the apps support the much larger 10 inch screen size: Current apps for the Android platform were mostly designed with the smaller 4 inch screen size in mind, and they do not all scale up well. Maybe the 7 inch form factor is a hedge against this limitation.

It is an easy fix, especially relative to getting all the other things right about a Tablet OS: being usable for touch and gestures is harder. Ask MS. Windows is still a mouse and keyboard OS, and while there is supposed to be a Windows for tablets someday, it won't be until there are hundreds of millions iPads and Android tablets out in the wild. If it is anything like the Win7 phone, the first release won't be feature complete either, meaning the market will have even more time to run away from them.

But is it a Computer?

The number one question I get: Can my tablet replace a laptop. Answer: yes, but it will be an Android one that does it, at least at first. The reason is simple and age old: Android tablets are not trying to keep other products in business. They won't need a tether. You'll be able to back them up and restore them to USB connected devices or the Cloud (I view Apples MobileMe as a hedge against the cloud). Solid State memory will continue to drop such that todays 64 GB tablet is tomorrows 256 GB tablet, and then the next years 1 terabyte tablet.

For right now, on the iPad, I can go days without a sync, and really only need a power cord. I chaff against the restrictions placed on me by the only browser available, but for short periods of time it is tolerable. Still, Chrome with Flash will be a welcome addition someday, if not on the iPad, then on the Androids that will follow it.

Yes: I know that Opera is available, and that there are other browser shells that front end Safari: none of them fix the simple fact that a lot of the InterWebs is Flash based.

As a book reader, a web surfer, a text composer, a research tool, a reference manual, and a non-flash media consumption device, the current crop of tablets are already replacing laptops and other special purpose devices. When dual core processors, integrated graphics, bigger solid state disks, and higher resolution screens arrive over the next two years, the question of "Is it a real computer" will give way to "When will laptops die or be marginalized?". We used to ask when laptop sales would eclipse desktop sales, and they did. This will be no different.

The current Macbook Air is a clue to that future. As much as I would love to have one, I can not justify having both it and an iPad. The Air is more of a "real" computer (though what that means is already becoming blurry), and would be my choice for an office computer, when rigged out with an external display, and external storage to stage all the things that do not fit in its 256 GB max disk size. My non-Air, 13 inch Macbook has a 500GB drive, and a 640GB drive external, and still I stage things off to other locations. I have a bad virtual machine habit.

Therein lies the upcoming split: as large laptops grow in power and screen resolution, they will continue to replace desktops: My office Dell M4500 laptop is more powerful than any computer I personally have access to other than the new 27" iMac quad core. They are not too far apart spec wise, and came in at about the same price point. As the high end of the laptop eats away at the desktop, the laptop lower end will be chewed away by the tablet.

All the things that are wrong / substandard / less than optimal on the current generation of tablets will be fixed within the next two years. Androids, not having to keep a 30 pin connector alive will support USB 3.0, SD cards, and all manner of standard storage and connections. They will leapfrog the iPad in that regard, and what will be interesting to see is if Apple responds with lockdown and lockout, or open up and set the iPad free to be the full blown computer is has the potential to be.

The market is Apple's to lose, but if the computing history of MS is any guide.... well, it will be interesting. If they stay in the game, then we'll all win.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 24, 2010


In my last post, "iPhoneless", I talked about trading in my personal iPhone 3GS for a Samsung Captivate. Since then I have traded in my BMC provided Blackberry Storm (1st generation) for... wait for it... an iPhone 4.

Bye Bye Blackberry... Storm that is

I have written here several times of my problems with Blackberries. I know there are those who love the chicklet keys, and go so far to call them "real" keyboards. I am not one of those people, and prefer the virtual keyboard, especially on a small form factor computer. Full disclosure: I am typing this on my brand new-for-Xmas keyboard/dock on my iPad. I like the virtual keyboard on the iPad just fine, but I am admittedly faster on this little jewel.

The keypad was far from my only problem with the BB Storm though. It was a wretched virtual keyboard, though the upgrade to OS5 made that somewhat better. The push=to=click screen was always a horrible idea though, and nothing about any OS was going to change that.

The web browser was/is garbage and even with Opera installed, it was still suboptimal, because there were some many things, like downloads, that required the BB Browser.

There was how slow it was (made somewhat better by OS5).

There was the OS itself, which always felt like a patchwork, even after the OS5 upgrade. I hear OS6 fixed a lot of this, but the 1st gen Storm will never know that. It's last OS version is 5, in part because the Storm does not have enough memory for 6, although the slow processor is also probably a factor.

The Torch is a Storm with a faster processor, a chicklet slide out keypad, and OS 6, therefore a better web browser. I played with one at the AT&T store but it still is not a nice as my first generation iPhone was. At least for me. I know others love love love the BB's. I do not miss mine even a little.

Best of Two Worlds

I will never have every possible smartphone there is in order to know which one might be the ultimate best one. WebOS has real possibilities for example, now that HP owns it. Having the Captivate and the iPhone 4 is a unique opportunity to compare the two leaders of the USA field though. Note that, unlike my personal iPhone, this one is BMC's, so it is the stock OS 4.1, and is not jailbroken. I can not upgrade it to 4.2 even, because the software that hooks it into our Exchange server over the Internet is not ready for 4.2. From everything I have read, 4.2 was no big deal for the iPhone anyway: It was mostly about bringing multitasking and folders to the iPad.


Much has been said about the beauty of the iPhones 300 dpi display. All of the good stuff is true. It is a pretty screen, and it works even in fairly bright light. The Amoled display on the Captivate is also amazing, especially while watching video: For some reason it almost looks 3D. It is also a battery drainer of the first order. I have started to be very careful to not use color backgrounds in things like email or IM as that saves power. Not enough though.

I actually prefer the Amoled display most of the time, in part because it is 4 inches rather than 3.7, and that extra little bit helps with my older eyes and fat fingers. In bright light, it is useless however.


Both the iPhone and the Captivate have 5 megapixel cameras, and here is proof positive that there is more to a digital camera than megapixels. the iPhone camera is better in low light, bright light... any kind of light, than the Samsung. The Samsung does have EV compensation though, so I guess it wins in backlight, or other situations where the meter has to be over-ridden to get the shot. The iPhoto app is also much better for organizing pictures, and this I do not get. Google owns Picasa: Where is Picasa for Android?

Virtual Keyboard

I have dissed the BB's keypad, and BB keyboards in general, so I guess I should note which keyboard I like better between the IPhone and the Samsung. The Samsung.. mostly. The Captivate comes with Swype, and that is an amazing way to enter text on a small keyboard. Just trace along the letters, never lifting your finger, and most of the time it figures out the words correctly. People that are good at Swype can apparently do 50 words per minute.

There are rumors that Swype is being developed for the iPhone, but I have a hard time seeing Apple approving it as an app. If they did this would be a toss-up.

There is nothing wrong with the virtual keypad of the iPhone: Beside the Swype keypad the Captivate has the stock Android one, and a Samsung one. Either of those is not quite as good as the Apple, mostly because the spacing and layout combined with the way the letters pop up as you type them. Those things together maker it a little easier than the non-Swype keyboards on the Captivate.

Speeds and Feeds

The iPhone is supposed to be about 800 Mhz, and the Captivate about 1 Ghz. Both ARM based processors. I can't tell the difference. Both clip along well. Both load and render web pages at about the same speed.

Radio / 3G / Voice

In a recent trip to New York, famed home of lousy AT&T reception (or so they say: my BB was never any better there and it was Verizon) the two phones worked about the same. Not scientific, but when one phone was out of range, so was the other. Occasionally the Captivate would have a bar when the iPhone had none. Most of the time they were in range. Most of the time they worked, although there was a pub I went to a fair amount where both were incommunicado.

I like the sound of the earpiece a little better on the Samsung, but the iPhone is way better at canceling out the ambient noises I am surrounded by, making it better for the person on the other end of the line. Meh. No difference.

Both sync up to my Plantronics Bluetooth earpiece without issues.


I did not lump this in with the radio because there is a difference here. The iPhone pretty much kicks the Captivate's tush. It finds access points, and more easily stays connected to them. Its range is longer from the same access point, and it remembers passwords better.

Battery and Battery life

Another iPhone win, but mostly because the iPhone ecosystem is larger. I have a Mophie JuicePack on the iPhone, meaning it has an extra 1500 mAh battery at all times. There are no Mophie juice packs for the Captivate, and there is no aftermarket battery at this writing that is larger than the stock 1500 mAh unit. Do any serious screen time work on the Captivate, and that battery drains at an alarming rate. Since I like the Samsung display better, that means the Captivate is always drained more deeply than the iPhone. It can not pass a MicroUSB power cord.

(Update: Here in January of 2011, while looking for any news of a 2.2 update, I found aftermarket batteries finally appearing for the Captivate. Mine will be getting a 3200 mAh unit in the near future. It makes the phone look like a humpback whale rather than a thin slab, but with basically twice the runtime, and a bigger case so it is easier to hold on to, it is a no-brainer for me. Hard part will be finding a new belt-case for it. yes, I look like Batman with all this crap hanging from my belt. Better than carrying it in my pocket and risking microwave radiation in the nether regions though.)

The whole concept of the removable battery being better than the iPhone sealed in tight unit is laughable when one has a Mophie Juicepack. I do not have to plug in to A/C to switch out a battery for example. And the Mophie makes the iPhone into a MicroUSB connector, the same as the Captivate, so I only need one cable type: Nice.

The iPhone beats the Captivate to a bloody pulp here, and it is the fault of the Captivate not having a 3000 mAh optional battery. Really: I don't care if it is thicker: The Juicepack is hardly slimming. Smartphones eat batteries. Need. Bigger. Battery.


I keep finding I have muted the Captivate, and I still don't know how I did it exactly. It happens all the time, and it is the ergonomics of the volume control buttons somehow. The Mophie does a great job protecting the volume controls of the iPhone, so there is no issue there.

On the other hand, I love the search, home and back buttons of the Captivate, and even more that those buttons on the Captivate are virtual, not mechanical. That is the hardest thing about switching back and forth between the two phones: I am always looking for those buttons on the iPhone.

App Store

The iPhone may have more apps in the app store, but with Apples censorship, they are not all that I want. Fewer apps, but more apps than I am interested in maps to the Captivate having a better app store. For example, until recently, Google Voice was not in the iPhone app store. It is now of course, but that was months I had it on the Captivate and not the iPhone.

The rest of the Google suite: Maps and Navigation for example are still not iPhone options, and while the iPhone has a maps app, and it is even based off Googles, it is nowhere near as up-to-date. Navigation requires something like Tom-Tom on the iPhone. And while I play few games, the Angry Birds on the Captivate is ad supported, therefore free.

The cost of the better app store is that there is a ton of junk in the Google Market. Easy to filter through though.

The one app I really want on the Captivate that is not there is the SyFy "Blastr": formerly SYFY Wire. Not sure why they have not done a version of that, but I can read it on the iPad and the iPhone, so it is not horrible that it is not there.

I have five browsers on my Captivate. The built in one is OK, but Dolphin and Opera and Opera Mini and Firefox are all so very nice too... IPhone has Safari. Serviceable and better than the BB browser by so very far. Not Android good though.


Captivate was supposed to get Froyo months ago, but so far it has not appeared. Looking through the forums is appears that this is sort of a Samsung tradition, and there are those wondering if it will ever appear. I have 2.1 Update 1 on mine, and it gets new versions of the apps pushed to it on a near daily basis. Almost annoyingly often: Every time I see the message that I have new software I run and check and no: No 2.2 for you.

I am hoping to see a faster, more responsive OS, and actual Flash: the bane of the Apple existence. But so far I have been denied, and it is starting to get frustrating.

If I jailbroke my iPhone, I would also find the iOS drop schedule full of grief, but from the other direction: How often new versions of iOS show up, and at times only closing jailbreaks. Right now, as I write this, the only jailbreak out for the current 4.2.1 requires the phone to be tethered every time it is booted. How to be sure that no one ever upgrades!

I like the iOS multitasking and folders, but of course I have all those things on the Captivate too. They do not work exactly the same, and I had to add the folders to the Captivate via Marketplace and Fabio Collini's "Apps Organizer" and "Folder Organizer" apps.

The pull down status tray is something I use all the time on the Captivate. The only way to have that on the iPhone is via jailbreak and the SBSettings app.. something denied me because the iPhone is not jailbroken.

iOS is like ... Windows in a way. It is easy, it works, it is updated often and not always for nefarious reasons. I would have no issue recommending it to a non-computer-technical person. For me, it is constraining. The editorial position of Apple is grievous. They are acting like Microsoft back in their heydays, and in the worst possible version of that. The vision that Apple has is clearly superior in many ways, but it is not the only vision, and locking out others who have ideas too is just not working for me.

Further, while the iPhone is easy, Android is not hard. If someone was not planning on making their Android based phone into an MP3 player as well, and they were non-computer-technical, android is also an easy recommendation. If music is involved, Nothing I have found in the Marketplace is as easy as the iPod / iTunes duo to use. Double Twist comes close, and even adds the wireless sync capability long missing from the iPhone. But it is not as easy to manage as the iPhone, and is much slower at syncing, wired or not wired.


The iPhone is a perfect work phone. Its mail client is easy to use and much nicer than the one in the Storm. Ditto the Calendar. I was always late to meeting because the screen presentation of a calendar on the BB was just stupid. The iPhone is locked down and locked out and all those things, so I don't have to worry about things like the policies that Apple has that I do not like.

It is interesting to have the two competing phones and see where one is better than the other, but if I had to chose another personal phone, it would still be something Android based. Maybe with a 4.3 inch screen next time... and from a vendor that is better about keeping their OS up to date like Motorola or HTC. I love the Samsung's screen though, and they are the only ones doing Amoled right now.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Blog: "Green IT"

I have taken on an additional role at my day job: That of "Green IT Spokesperson". To go with that new role, I have started a new blog called "Green IT" at

I am still a Linux person, still a Mac person, still have an Android phone (and soon, my corporate phone will be an iPhone, replacing my BB Storm: Yea!!!), and I'll still be posting from time to time here and over at "Adventures in Linux": Just more writing, which actually I do not mind. I am hoping with practice to get better at it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The thing that surprised me the most about getting a Samsung Captivate running Android 2.1 was just how apprehensive I was about it. After a bit of introspection, I realized I was actually worried about "leaving the nest": that the new experience would not be the match for what had come before it.

I was not expecting it to be the same: Just that I would somehow lose some functionality I had come to expect or depend on from the iPhone ecosystem. Further, the iPhone 4 is a beautiful piece of work. I have held one in every death grip I could think of, and got pretty much nothing. The same can not be said of my Blackberry which drops bars when held. But it is Verizon, and I get lousy signal at my house for Verizon, even though I get 5 bars on ATT.

I really wanted a Droid X, or an EVO, but neither of those phones was available on AT&T, and unlike the many that love bashing AT&T, my experience with them has been mostly positive. With a family plan and 5 phones on it, moving to another carrier was not financially feasible, and I also will not get anything but a GSM phone, and that let out the main units I was looking at.

Enter the Samsung Captivate.

ATT now has to really nice Android based phones: The HTC Aria, and the Captivate, which is the ATT version of the Galaxy S world phone. I was sorely tempted by the Aria: I have never seen a more pocketable phone, and it just felt really nice in the hand. But I wanted a big screen: Bigger than the iPhone if possible, and on AT&T, that is the Captivate right now.

Pushed from the Nest

Oddly, it was three things that Apple did that made me make the jump:

  1. The constant cat-and-mouse games between the jailbreak community and Apple. Apple really wants to control what I put on my phone, and I really want to control that instead.
  2. Related to point 1 is Apples policies around their App store. 
    1. I don't dig censorship, and I really hated that, for example, they had not allowed Google Voice onto the phone. 
    2. The Zinio magazine app was defanged and largely useless.
    3. Then they went and bought a map company, clearly so that they could move away from Google even further. 
    4. Then there is the whole Flash thing. I am an adult: I can choose to eat my battery up with flash if I like. I totally agree that Flash has problems, but it is not for Apple to tell me how to deal with them.
  3. The iPad. With it, I have access to all the things I care about. I like the iTunes store. I like the rental system. I like being able to grab TV shows when I miss them and forgot to set the DVR. I like Audible, and the new iPad Audible apps is very very nice. But with an iPad, I do not need and iPhone to consume these things.

Even though I am a Linux guy, and Android was the premiere Linux based phone OS, I had waited, reading the trades, till appeared to me (as much as you can tell by reading) that ANdroid was more or less on feature parity with iOS4. Clearly it has always done multitasking, and such. I was more concerned around speed, stability, and size of the Android marketplace: Could I get things like Pandora there? My iPhone was ladden with apps, and I loved messing with them. I wanted that on my Android.

Another thing I have been waiting for is AMOLED screens to be feasible. The concept behind them is just too logical, and makes way more sense than LCD: Direct light generation, and no power used when a pixel is not on. The Galaxy S class of phones was the first that had the combination of size, maturity of execution, etc, to make me ready to switch. It is not the iPhone 4's retina display, but it is probably the second best display out there right now.

The camera has EV settings! I have wanted that forever on a cellCam. And it has a cool feature letting me tap on the screen for it to pick where to meter. All told, it is probably not as good an automatic camera as the iPhone 4, but it is a far better manual one.


There have been two problems of note so far:

  1. The MicroUSB charge port
  2. Syncing to my Mac
The charge port has a nifty sliding cover, but it also has the same issue as the first generation iPhone had with headphone: If your cord has a fat rubber grip near the microUSB connector, it will not easily slide in, and stay in. And there is no way to charge and talk at the same time, even with the provided MicroUSB cord. It just won't stay put.

In my MS Windowsless world, I never even thought to ask about sync to a smartphone. Everyone supports Mac these days... not. The Captivate / Galaxy S has no native way to sync to my Mac. To get media on Captivate, I have to put it into media mode, and turn on USB debugging. Then it appears to the Mac (or Linux) as a flash drive, and I can just drag content onto it. Its fast, and gives me ultimate content control, but I do miss iTunes.

Also, I would like a bigger battery option. The 1500 mAh is OK, and does better than my iPhone 3GS ever did, but that is damning with faint praise. I could not pass a charging cable with that phone, especially once it had iOS4 on it. But the 30 pin dock ecosystem is a rich place, and there is nothing like that on the Captivate. I would kill for a Mophie JuicePack. Barring that, a 2500-3000 mAh battery would be just the thing.

Probably more as this goes on: This is only day 4. But so far I do not, by and large, miss the iPhone, and I do enjoy having access to the Google world in a very high fidelity way. I set up Google Voice yesterday...

Monday, July 19, 2010


Well, I put up with it as long as I could. I believe that one should have open comments on a blog about being open.

But the spammers have worn me out with the deleting of the spam posts.

I have set the blog for comment moderation, at least until Google gets a better way to filter spam posts. I apologize to anyone in advance who thinks that this contravenes the concept of being open. I promise all non-spam posts will get posted.